For a segment of Generation X, their first “true” introduction to Bruce Springsteen came with the release of “Born in the USA” June 4, 1984. Some members of that generation might have heard Springsteen’s earlier hits on the radio, such as “Hungry Heart,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and the ever-popular, “Born to Run,” but something about “Born in the USA” was different, and thus, Springsteen might have been almost unrecognizable musically.
For others, and in general, “Born in the USA” was a bold choice. With its giant American flag iconography, a (newly) muscular Springsteen standing in front of it, “Born in the USA” was in-your-face before any music was played. The theme continued with its title track. Springsteen, with muscles or not, was still political. However, he was not shying away from the somewhat subtle use of keyboards. Also, Springsteen embraced video – – one of the singles from “Born in the USA,” “Dancing in the Dark” was extremely popular as a video. It seemed as if people tuned in just to wait for that moment when Springsteen pulls a dark-haired girl from the crowd to dance with. (Later she turned out to be actress Courtney Cox).
“Born in the USA” is important not just because it is Springsteen’s seventh album, but because it remains The Boss’ most commercially successful release. The look and sound associated with it managed to update Springsteen’s image at the time, and helped to keep him culturally relevant from that point on.
Bruce Springsteen: “Born in the USA” and blue-collar rock
In 1984, while a variety of rock subgenres were evolving and gaining new audiences, synth pop, new wave and post punk were still popular. While some new wave groups found success on Top 40 charts, still others and post punk bands happily remained underground. But Top 40 pop and new wave groups often sang about cosmopolitan scenarios and characters. The focus was often not on working-class people.
Enter Springsteen and “Born in the USA.” The title track, even with its subtle keyboards, had genuine rock ‘n’ roll guitars and drums. The lyrics detail the political and social dissatisfaction of a man who has had to fight in Vietnam, but can barely eke out a living in his native country, the US.
Even when Springsteen was relatively romantic, for example on “Cover Me,” there was an edge to the song of commitment and being sheltered by the love of a significant other. The lyrics include lines such as “promise me you won’t let them find us/hold me in your arms/let’s let our love blind us/cover me…” surrounded by heavy, crying guitar work and undergirded by vigorous drumming.
In total, “Born in the USA” yielded seven popular singles. Shortly after its release, the album was in the No. 1 or No. 2 spot on charts around the world. It reached No. 1 in the US in 1985, after ending 1984 at No.28. By the end of 1986, “Born in the USA” was still on US Billboard charts and had reached No. 16. In regard to sales, the album went platinum 15 times. The success of “Born in the USA” proved that the music that was uniquely Springsteen still resonated with audiences.